Before the explosion of online stats sites like Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball Prospectus, or FanGraphs, many went to the local library or plunked down money without thinking about it for Total Baseball, The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball that started its run in 1989, and was (and still is) one of the baseball researcher’s best friends. The publication, which was edited and authored by John Thorn and Pete Palmer, was basically the print version of Baseball-Reference, with essays sprinkled about. Whether BP saw what Total Baseball did, or not, that model continued with them (although, sadly, the back-of-the-book essays have disappeared), and the likes of The Hardball Times.
Palmer, to many, has been the “numbers man” while Thorn the author. He’s penned Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame, The Hidden Game of Baseball, The Glory Days: New York Baseball 1947-1957, and The Armchair Book of Baseball along with Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game set for publication in just a few weeks (March 15, to be exact). His research on the origins of baseball (technically, other stick and ball games from the past) has redefined the subject. While many had believed that baseball originated in the 19th Century, Thorn may well have shown that the game really has its origins in the 18th Century.
I was lucky enough to sit at John’s table in 2006 when he won the Bob Davids Award, SABR’s highest award, and can say that he’s one of the nicest people to ever chronicle the game. He was featured in Ken Burns’ Baseball, Burns’ recent follow-up companion The 10th Inning and he’s been a prominent fixture on MLB Network’s Prime 9 series.
So, when it was announced last week that Thorn has become the Official Baseball Historian for Major League Baseball, it shouldn’t have been a shock. And yet, with the passing of Jerome Holtzman, who served as Official Baseball Historian from 1999 until his passing in 2008 for the league, it was a bit in the making.
Thorn has barely got his feet wet at the new position, but we caught up with him to see what the new gig is all about. MLB, you’re in good hands. – Maury Brown
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